Montreal author Dimitri Nasrallah's Niko is an all-consuming, and timely, read
Niko, local author Dimitri Nasrallah’s second novel, begins with a normal domestic tableau – or at least as much normalcy and domesticity as the protagonist’s family can muster in a city torn apart by war. Young Niko, six years old, is a restless kid in an apartment above his dad’s camera shop in Beirut. His pregnant mom, a script editor for a local TV station, is trying to concentrate on her work while her son runs around her feet – he is bored because he’s cooped up inside while the world crumbles outside. He should be at school, but the schools have all closed; his father should be down in his camera shop, but the sounds of bombs fill the air and instead he languishes in front of the television.
A few pages later, Niko’s world is torn apart by one of the bombs, and the family are launched out of their boredom and restlessness and onto a life-defining quest. The rest of the novel follows both father and son: the day-to-day practicalities of food, housing, papers and work for a man with no country, and a son with a tenuous future.
Nasrallah painstakingly follows their trajectory as they cross the world as refugees, first together and then separately. They board a ferry to Cyprus, and then Greece, and then finally Niko is sent to grow up with distant relatives in faraway, French Montreal, where there are "too many rules, and no one is happy, but we all have a lot of money to live well and we all complain."
Niko is relevant and engrossing reading, and I daresay that in a month of elections, it’s a particularly alluring read. Nasrallah gives us the space to contemplate his characters, who are refugees and immigrants who struggle towards uncertain futures, uncertain even in the relatively safe haven of Quebec society. What better time than now?